Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Assimilation

We arrived in Australia a little over three months ago. Of course, I know it's going to take a much longer time to feel like we actually live here. Right now I still feel like I'm on a sabbatical from the U.S. I am making daily comparisons between what "they" do here and what "we" do back in the States. Owning a house back in Atlanta that hasn't yet sold and renting our home here adds to this sense of a temporary lifestyle. In fact, I leave in a week for a 12-day trip to America to attend some conferences and see some family members. I find myself very much looking forward to this trip because I'll be able to relax again, being in my own culture surrounded by people who talk like me and eat my food, sell "my" kinds of things, etc. We're creating a shopping list of things for me to buy there that will require bringing along an extra suitcase. And I'll get to see so many of my dear friends and family!

Given my current state of mind, I found this page appropriately amusing. It's from www.matesupover.com, a website for ex-pat Australians living in the United States. On this page is a little anonymously written essay called "The Five Stages of Culture Shock." I believe that I am experiencing the beginning of the second stage (which followed a stage of wonderment and tourist-like excitement):
The second stage is the actual shock. It can be characterized with loss of courage and general discomfort. Changes in character occur, depression, lack of self-confidence and irritation, people become more vulnerable and prone to crying, more worried about their health, suffer from headache, bad stomach and complaint about pain and allergy. Difficulties with concentration often occur and reduce the ability to learn a new language. These factors increase the anxiety and the stress. In this period, the self-awareness dissolves and people have trouble with solving simple problems. Conversations on this stage are about things that cannot be bought, what you must get along without, and everything that the people in the new country do wrong (which means "differently").
It is easy to get into a rant about the little things that are different here (e.g., the lack of built-in sink plugs, the light switches that flip down instead of up, the complicated choices involved in choosing mobile phone services), but such rants merely mask pangs of homesickness. Most of all I miss my friends and family. It's hard to accept the fact that I can no longer just jump in the car and drive off to see them in a few minutes or a few hours. I also realize now that I am resisting assimilation quite fiercely by surrounding myself with things from "home," and occasionally mocking what people do here. I end up spending most of my social time with North Americans (which is easy to do at my workplace)! According to the "Five Stages of Culture Shock:"
The third stage of culture shock is characterized with one's plunging into new ways of living. With patience, it is possible to reach this stage by the end of the first year. Key aspects in a new culture are being learned and the earlier chaos and lack of direction seldom appears. Relations with the native population are initiated, such as neighbours and workmates or schoolmates.
So, according to this, I've got another nine months of moaning and whinging to go! Then I can start on fourth stage. Stay tuned...

8 comments:

Audra said...

That was an excellent post! In my experience, novelty and discomfort are far more stimulating and inspiring than peace, quiet, and comfort, especially when it come to the creative arts (which of course include written compositions). This is why some of the world's best art and innovation comes from war torn countries. Placidity is stifling. Strife is exciting.

Dobbs said...

Really the only culture shock that continues to bother me here is the "No Worries" culture. By this I mean for example when I schedule a repair man to come at a certain time and he tells me "No Worries" he'll be there and then doesn't show or shows up late. This has happened to me more times than I can remember with scheduled appointments not being met among other things.

When I hear "No Worries" I pretty much consider it the equivalent of "Inshaallah" from when I was living in the Middle East. God Willing, the person will show up or get done on time what they said they would.

Danielle said...

I just passed the Two Years mark, and I'm having a hard time deciding whether I'm really into Phase 3 yet or not. Though I am giving up the will to fight for my pronunciations, so maybe that's a start.

kitten said...

Eric, It takes time dear friend. I'd say 6 months (at least) to "get over" the comparison thing and get on with the acceptance part of things.

I honestly didn't realise how much comparing I did until it was pointed out by my hubby. Then I started to make a concerted effort to stop. I still do but more in a joking way than complaining way now. I never stop missing real BBQ sauce or real Ranch dressing, Hanes socks and T shirts, etc...you know what I mean? But life goes on and it will get easier. I believe, from talking to many others that it takes at the very least 1 full yr to full accept and appreciate the differences. But I"m always gonna complain about the heat , though LOL! DUnno if you've read my blog archives but the oldest posts are about such things as assimilating.

Tors said...

Hey, have fun on your trip back to the States! :) We did the same thing you're doing - brought 4 empty suitcases and filled them with stuff we either can't get here or can't get cheaply. It was great!

As far as culture shock goes, yeah, what you're feeling right now is SO normal. I remember there was a specific moment where it hit me that I'm not on vacation, I LIVE HERE now. It's a weird feeling. And the comparisons will eventually stop, although it might be harder if you go back frequently.

I think the first year is usually the hardest, but it depends... I've seen some people blow through four stages in a matter of weeks, and unfortunately other people never get past stage 2.

From your posts here it sounds like you've got so much going for you in Oz (even if it IS QLD *wink*), you've got plenty of friends around you, you are taking time to enjoy what this new life has to offer and not wallowing in negativity. So don't worry! :)

D said...

You can always move back home.

The Author said...

You guys are gonna make me start worrying. When my husband was here in San Diego, he pointed out many things which were different, anything from the upside down light switches to how our milk tastes salty to my waste of water by rinsing dish soap off the washed dishes. He was unimpressed by our restaurant food (who isn't?) shocked over how rude people are, dismayed how no one understood what he was saying, but pleased how inexpensive cars and appliances are. Overall he says it was an enjoyable experience being here, but he still feels life in Oz will be heaps better with lots less stress. I guess it's all a matter of give and take, and how rigidly set you are in your ways (ta to Kitten..) I don't think I worry so much about me as I do my kids though. Just today my youngest one burst into tears at the thought of missing our friends.

The Prof said...

Thanks to you all for your comments! Anyone moving to another country just has to realize that there's more to it than the visas, moving company, etc. It must be so much easier, however, when one moves to another country where people speak the same language. Some Aussies have a hard time with my accent, so I am learning to speak more slowly and enunciate a bit better, but I think it would be a nightmare having to master a new language during Stage 2.

I do recommend that anyone interested look at kitten's older blog entries. I remember one in particular that she posted about what it psychologically takes to move. I'll try to find the link. Also, here's another plug for "Yanks Down Under..." reading the forums there helps a lot with many transition issues.